Rolling Stone Cover Controversy

Rolling Stone CoverRolling Stone magazine is coming out with a story that is causing a huge amount of tumult and distress. The cover of the magazine has a picture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. For those of you who don’t know, he is one of two brothers who bombed the Boston Marathon resulting in the deaths of three people and the horrific wounding of 264 others. These bombs were placed directly next to small children. The ensuing chase and capture caused more injuries and damage.

The reason this is causing trouble is that many see it as glorifying Tsarnaev. That it will encourage others to commit such acts so that they too can gain the cover of such a prestigious magazine. The people who were wounded or who lost loved ones are extremely angry at the magazine for putting him on the cover. People who were not hurt by the bombs are also angry.

A number of Rolling Stone outlets are not going to put the magazine on display. People are organizing boycotts and making threats to the magazine.

Rolling Stone editors explain that they are merely reporting a story. That they examine what turned Tsarnaev into the sort of person that can plant a bomb in the middle of a crowd that includes many children. That they often report on important stories. That the picture of Tsarnaev is the same picture that media news outlets of all sorts have been using since he became a prime suspect in the attack.

I’m of two minds on this one.

The media, Rolling Stone, or any other outlet puts up stories that people are interested in seeing. The reason they do this is because we are interested. If we weren’t, these stories would make their way to the back pages of trade journals. All that is good in the world is not interesting. Rolling Stone is catering to demand.

Every news outlet in the United States has put pictures of murderous scum on their cover. By publishing a story about Tsarnaev, Rolling Stone is doing nothing that every other media outlet in the United States hasn’t done repeatedly.

On the other hand, what they are doing is causing pain and giving Tsarnaev some sort of celebrity status. Rolling Stone generally puts musicians and movie stars on their cover and there is an expectation of such that does not come with other news outlets. There is a possibility the cover will encourage someone else to commit horrific acts so they get their own fame. I think people often commit these sorts of crimes as a way to get attention but one cover here or there doesn’t really add to the whole of the infamy desired. The news is reported everywhere, not just Rolling Stone. However, this cover being on a celebrity heavy publication at least contributes to the perception of fame.

People who do this sort of thing will likely always be with us and our fascination for disaster, horror, self-imploding celebrities, and general mayhem will probably not ever go away. If people want to see it, someone will provide it for them. That is the law of supply and demand and that is, to a large degree, capitalism.

If Rolling Stone wants to put monstrous scum like Tsarnaev on their cover I suppose it is their right to do so. If they sell more magazines, and I suspect they will, then it was the right move from profit orientated point of view. If people refuse to buy the magazine, if outlets don’t want to sell it, then they can act accordingly, that is certainly their right as well.

But all that rationalization is simply a way for me to pretend that I don’t have to take a position on this Rolling Stone cover.

I absolutely believe Rolling Stone has the right to put whoever they want on the cover their magazine. Also that a company has every right not to sell it. That an individual doesn’t have to buy it, doesn’t have to walk into the store where it is on sale and have to look at it.

That being said here’s my position. Rolling Stone is wrong to do it.

While they are occasionally a news outlet they are primarily a music and celebrity orientated magazine. Tsarnaev and others like him should not be on their cover. I do think it is important to understand why a person could do these things so we can take actions to prevent it in the future. I just don’t think Rolling Stone is the place for this examination. It’s not my magazine, I’m a lowly blogger who gets a few dozen reads a day. They are a huge magazine that sells millions of copies. Still, I’ll stand by my principles. I chose to put an old cover of the magazine on the front of this blog, not the cover of Tsarnaev. That was my choice and only I have to live with it.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water ($2.99 for 300+ pages of fun-filled fantasy)
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

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